When the season began, Frank Vogel set a modest goal for his team, one that he felt would ensure they committed themselves to making the extra pass whenever possible.
Twenty-five assists per game, he thought, would be a good number.
“I might have to change it,” Vogel said after Wednesday’s game, smiling at the thought.
Getting there has become too easy for the Lakers. On Wednesday they beat the Golden State Warriors 120-94 at Staples Center, giving the Warriors a taste of their own medicine.
With 31 assists on the night, the Lakers have eclipsed 30 assists in four games in a row. Wednesday’s performance followed one Tuesday night in Phoenix when they had a season-high 39 assists.
“I don’t know if there’s a number, but in the teens is not a good ingredient for our ballclub when we have guys that can pass the ball,” LeBron James said. “But if we’re in the high 20s to the 30s that lets me know that we’re definitely paying attention to what we want to do offensively.”
It used to be the Warriors who rolled over opponents while setting a standard for unselfish pass-first basketball. They led the league in assists for the last five years, with a roster filled with superstars, anchored by Stephen Curry, who shares credit as willingly as he shares the basketball.
But the team the Lakers met was a shell of its former self. Klay Thompson is hurt. Curry is hurt. Kevin Durant left in free agency. And the Warriors have the worst record in the Western Conference.
“I think when I’m watching them when I’m at home and we’re on off nights and I’m watching them, then it’s weird,” James said. “Just seeing Klay in a suit and not seeing Steph out there. But not when you’re playing. I played them in the Finals without Kyrie [Irving] and Kevin [Love]. So … no.”
At 2-10, this is the Warriors’ worst start since the 1999-2000 season, a season the Lakers ended with a championship.
With the win, the Lakers improved to 9-2, which is their best start since the 2010-11 season, when they began the year 13-2.
They led by as many as 27 points, and trailed only once at the start of the game. They got 23 points and 12 assists from James, along with 22 points from Kyle Kuzma and 18 points and 17 rebounds from JaVale McGee. Dwight Howard added 15 points and eight rebounds.
Even though Vogel set 25 assists a game as his preseason benchmark, he pushed his players even after they got past it. In a loss to the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers had 31 assists, but Vogel wanted more. They responded with 39 on Tuesday.
“That’s one of the things that we have to become this year,” Vogel said. “We have to be a team-first team and the man with the basketball has got to be thinking, create for others. When that happens, with the type of firepower that we have on this team, the game becomes easy. And I really believe that if we commit to that mind-set of sharing the basketball, truly sharing the basketball every time down, and we commit to the defensive end of the court, we’re gonna be able to reach our goals and we’ll have a terrific season.”
On Wednesday night it meant the Lakers’ first easy win of the season. A win that truly showed how much the tables have turned for the Warriors.
“You can’t be great forever,” Kuzma said. “They’re a dynasty throughout this decade, won three rings and had a lot of success. … It’s the life cycle of the NBA.”